Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Taboo #2: Religion.

In 1958 Bertrand Russell posited that there was a perfectly good Teapot orbiting the sun in our solar system, and defied anyone to prove him wrong.  He was trying to explain what an unfalsifiable hypothesis was, and to show that something isn't necessarily so just because you can't disprove it.  Why would he do such a thing?

Because some knucklehead tried to force religion on him by asserting that since you can't prove that God doesn't exist, then you have to accept that He does.

What this alerts us to is the idea that if something can't be found, it isn't necessarily nonexistent.  We've all heard of the not-very-bright prospector who after years of searching without success concluded that there was no such thing as Gold.  Assertions of the existence of something (such as an orbiting Teapot, a Flying Spaghetti Monster, or The Invisible Pink Unicorn) can't be disproved just because we are unable to find them.  We can't very well look everywhere all at once.

Even worse are assertions of the existence of something which by its very nature is unable to be seen, felt, or otherwise detected in any way.  Although an obvious logical error, it's still quite funny (to my sense of humor at any rate) to say that lack of evidence is itself not only evidence but final proof of the thing existing. In that way, we can assert that any absurd thing exists as long as we also say that by its nature it cannot be observed to exist.

This line of thinking is countered by the purveyors of quality religion who say, "Yes, but these unfalsifiable teapots are just objects, small ideas that have no real power to change the world.  Religion consists of big ideas that create meaning in people's lives."  

Tosh, says Russell, people are able to find meaning in anything, given enough time, motivation and creativity.  Athiests are eager to claim (though without proof) that this is exactly what happened at the beginning of each major world religion.

Recently this precise thing has occurred with the emergence of our newest worldwide religion, Pastafarianism (google it).  Because someone asserted the existence of a Flying Spaghetti Monster that can be no more proved or disproved than the dogma of any traditional religion, non-deists worldwide have adopted it as a kind of anti-faith or spoof religion.  Essentially, it's the same argument as Bertrand Russel's Orbiting Teapot.  So why isn't there a worldwide religion dedicated to worshiping the almighty Orbiting Teapot?  It's obvious, isn't it?  In 1958 the Internet hadn't been invented yet.

Please don't get me wrong - I'm not anti-religion nor am I an atheist.    I regularly attend one of Australia's many excellent religious organizations.  However, I'm not a Zealot and I reject Fundamentalism in all forms. I'm perfectly content for atheists to think what they think, and for any particular religious group to do likewise. I wonder only that people who crusade for atheism or any sort of -theism don't have anything better to do with their time.

Fractal known as The Mandelbrot Set
One thing I'm not happy to sit back and silently give approbation to is someone going around saying they have proof that their own Flying Teapot or Spaghetti Monster is the one real one.  I speak of the Intelligent Design fruitcakes whose lives are squandered away in vain resistance to the natural proven fact of Evolution.  They claim that by studying something they call "complexity" they can find evidence that there was an intelligent agent at work in creating Life.  In other words, they say they have scientific proof that their God exists.

The problem is that their definition of complexity is no better than that of pornography:  "you know it when you see it."  That way they can assert that anything they want to be complex IS complex, and anything they don't want to be complex isn't.  Is it any wonder they claim their hypothesis to be proved?  It doesn't surprise anyone, frankly.

Mandelbrot set, magnified 2000 times.
However they define it, the main assumption is that "complex" things need to be designed "intelligently" and things that aren't complex have probably formed naturally or were perhaps designed by morons.  I say that this is completely wrong and backwards.  As an engineer, I know that things that are intelligently well-designed will always be simple.  Rectangular.  Regular.  Containing no more features than are absolutely necessary.  Random features, such as that of gravel (a man-made manufactured product!) don't count.  Infinitely repeating features such as that on a fractal pattern look complex but aren't really. One simple mathematical equation describes all the infinite and intricate features of the Mandelbrot Set, for example.  A bowl of spaghetti seems complex when you examine it closely, but it contains no information and only one part.  Unless you add meatballs.

But complexity has a real definition and a way of measuring it.  It comes down to how much information an object contains, not necessarily how much is needed to duplicate it.  Spaghetti and fractals are not complex.  A Terabyte of random numbers is not complex.

The most complex thing we normally deal with is a computer.  Wasn't it designed?  Heavens, no.  It evolved through many increments to the point where no single person could possibly in a lifetime create all the hardware, firmware and software necessary for you to be reading this right now.  Compared to the human body however, a computer is relatively simplistic.  It also contains little or no random "garbage" owing to the intervention of designers.  The human DNA sequence on the other hand does contain "junk."

No, the idea of "irreducible complexity" does not prove the existence of an undetectable invisible sky person.  It is a false concept that misunderstands and misrepresents its own basic terms: intelligence, complexity, design, and creation.  Complex systems cannot be designed.  They can really only evolve.

And this should come as very welcome news for people who are into religion.  Religion is supposed to be something not scientifically tested or subject to forcible persuasion by proof.  It is supposed to be something of personal choice rather than compulsion by government or logic.  Why are some religionists determined to look for proof?  Do they in fact have no faith?  If you know any of them, could you get them to please stop it?

If you want religion to have a place in your life, you don't need the permission of Logic, Science, or any human being on the planet to do so.  Anyone who tries to ridicule you for doing so should be told to go and get a life.  At the same time don't be under any misapprehension that your Flying Spaghetti Monster is any more or less scientifically proven than someone else's.

In the words of America's most respected judge possessing the very Wisdom of Solomon,

"I order Science to stay 500 yards away from Religion at all times."

That's suits me.  While I quite enjoy chocolate in my peanut butter and peanut butter in my chocolate, the same does not apply to science and religion:  I enjoy both of them so much more when they are each minding their own business.

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